Here's what it has looked like from my office window a lot lately.
That's rain lashing at the window. Those are the white crests of waves pummelling the shoreline all along the bay. And that reflected light on the right side of the photo is a lamp on my desk, the illumination from which was badly needed as the sky was dark and heavy with clouds outside. (To shatter your idea of the idyll of living on the coast even further: this photo was taken at 12 noon!)
On days like this, a body calls out for comfort food. But when you're following what amounts to a vegan diet that includes fish, comfort food can be hard to find. (Think about it: don't most of our most comforting dishes include dairy? Mac and cheese, fish pie with creamy mash, apple crumble, chocolate cake - now I'm just torturing myself!)
Thankfully, my experiments in the kitchen have turned up some alternatives that are just as comforting and yet follow the principles of the OMS diet. This vegan cottage pie with North African spicing is one of them. It doesn't try to be a substitute for a classic, it just feels like a whole new dish to enjoy in the dark days of winter.
Vegan cottage pie with Moroccan spicing - serves 4
200g dried green speckled lentils*
500g sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 3 to 4cm cubes
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely (I used smoked garlic but regular garlic is fine)
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, cut into 1cm chunks
1 leek, peeled of its outer layers, halved lengthwise and chopped into 0.5cm slices
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons ras al hanout*
1 teaspoon cumin
1 400g can of chopped or peeled tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Start by preparing the vegetables (sweet potatoes, red onion, celery, garlic, chilli, red pepper and leek).
- Pre-heat your oven to 200 Celsius/400 F/Gas Mark 6.
- Cover the lentils in cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes. Reduce the heat. Cover the pot and simmer for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils have softened.
- Meanwhile cook the sweet potatoes. Cover with lightly salted cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until soft.
- Place a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the rapeseed oil, chopped onion, carrot and celery. Cook for three minutes.
- Add the garlic and chill and cook for a further two minutes.
- Add the red pepper, leeks, cooked lentils and spices and cook for another three to four minutes. (If you're using canned lentils, they get added at this point too.)
- Now add the can of tomatoes and the salt and cook for a further ten minutes. (If you're using whole tomatoes, you'll have to make sure you break those down using your wooden spoon.)
- Get to work on your sweet potatoes while your lentil mix is bubbling away. Mash them with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Taste both the lentil mix and the sweet potatoes to make sure you're happy with the seasoning and then pour the lentils into an oven-proof dish. Top with the sweet potato, spreading it out evenly with a fork.
- Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
* Tinned lentils work in this recipe too.
* Ras al hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that you'll find for sale in the spice section of most large supermarkets.
PS: Just in case you think living along the Irish Atlantic coast is all about darkness and harsh weather, we get days like this too.
Those days demand a different dinner!